A mental health and wellbeing project to support sixth form and college students in Stoke-on-Trent has been recognised with a national award.
Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent College identified a gap in early intervention support for students and created an Emotional Wellbeing Service with £120,000 funding from Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area programme.
The project beat off national competition to win the Sixth Form College Association’s 2021 Award in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Category.
Michelle Donelan, Minister for the Opportunity Areas, said: “I am proud that this important project in Stoke-on-Trent is being recognised, and I hope that its success continues as we expand our Opportunity Area programme into a fifth year, with early intervention for even more students so they stay engaged in their education and thrive. We know that wellbeing and academic success often go hand in hand which is why innovative projects like this are vital as we build back better from the pandemic.”
Both colleges found that high numbers of students were presenting to counselling service and safeguarding teams and they wanted to step in with support earlier for issues such as low self-esteem, motivation, healthy relationships and trauma. The project has helped to fund Emotional Wellbeing Workers to carry out initial assessments, identify goals and empower students with strategies such as mindfulness.
They also deliver drop-in sessions, one-to-one intervention and facilitate peer support groups such as the ‘Female Empower Hour’ to build self-esteem, so that students can access support appropriate to their needs including help dealing with any issues that arose from the pandemic.
There was high demand from students for the drop-in sessions during the Autumn 2020 term, the service was used 86 times across the two colleges.
Project lead Joanna Finn from Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, said: “A student may be having a bad day, experiencing a low mood, with low levels of motivation. They visit the drop-in service, speak to an Emotional Wellbeing Worker and leave feeling better for having spoken to someone. This could be a 10-minute intervention and that student is not seen within the service again. It is this early engagement and offer of support which has made a real difference to student wellbeing.”
Commenting on the sixth form college win, Kirsty Cooper added: “I would just like to say that I am extremely grateful to work in a setting that is so supportive and values mental health and wellbeing. I love my job and working with our students every day is incredibly rewarding. It doesn’t quite seem real to be nominated for such a great award but to win is unbelievable. I honestly can’t thank everyone I work with enough.”
The additional support is helping students to stay engaged in their studies so they can reach their potential and gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want. By the end of the academic year, data showed a significant decrease in the number of counselling referrals.
Co-Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Areas, Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “At a time when young people are facing major challenges it is crucial that they are able to access the support that they need to manage their mental health. It is fantastic to see how the OA has been able to contribute to the implementation of this great initiative in Stoke VI form College that has been so well received by their students. Well done to the team”
Further funding for this project has been approved for Year 5 of the Opportunity Area programme, extending its reach beyond the two colleges within the city to include sixth forms within schools and training providers.
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